SPENGLER Living without solutions in
Samaria By Spengler
SAMARIA - I am in Samaria, the northern
half of the West Bank, inside a cement shed in a
drab industrial park loaded with high-tech
equipment, hearing a harangue by a fiftyish fellow
wearing a knit skullcap , a torn t-shirt, shorts
and sandals. His name is Amichai Lourie, and he
points to a slim glass container holding an
ominous-looking amber liquid.
do it again," sighs Lourie. "I had to sleep in the
vineyard and tell the growers exactly when to
harvest every bunch of grapes. But I ended up with
8% residual sugar. Chardonnay is a tough grape for
a late harvest wine. Getting the sugar is one
thing, but it's especially hard to get the right
balance of fruit acid." Clearly this man is a
Lourie is referring to
a late harvest Chardonnay dessert wine
wrung out of the Samarian
hills, one of wine-making's trickiest products in
a region that has made wine for less than a
generation, in the present millennium, that is.
His specialty is Merlot.
unforgiving grape. With Cabernet, you can make a
mistake or two and still get a decent wine, but
Merlot requires perfection from harvest to
fermenting to aging." Anything easier wouldn't
interest the Pennsylvania-born vintner, who won't
be deprived of the chance to be part of a miracle.
Wine might seem a distraction as the Oslo
accords disintegrate. Palestine Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to annual
the 20-year-old foundation for the "peace
process". Now that Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood
President Mohamed Morsi has embraced Hamas - the
Brotherhood's Palestinian wing - over the protests
of the Palestine Authority,  the Fatah-led PA
has lost its main Arab supporter. Earlier this
month, West Bank Palestinians rioted against the
PA over economic grievances.
veritas, though not in the way the proverb is
usually understood. Wine has geopolitical
significance on the West Bank. Samaria's wine
boutiques help explain why the Jewish presence in
ancient Judea and Samaria has become a permanent
fact of life in the region. Like Mr Lourie, the
winemakers of Samaria are on a mission from God.
The region is in ferment, but not the way you
When the first settlers
reclaimed the wasteland in what now is known as
the West Bank late in the 19th century, they
wondered whether grapes had ever grown in the
region. Perhaps the beverage to which the Bible
referred was something other than wine? In fact,
the combination of seasonal rainfall captured in
limestone rock, cold nights and hot days works
wonders. The settlers plant the usual varietals.
They haven't isolated enough DNA from ancient
grape pits to recreate biblical vines, yet.
Lourie's Shiloh winery took the top prizes
at Israel's main wine competition, but he's one of
several settler-vintners who set out to turn what
the international media call the Occupied West
Bank into Israel's Napa Valley. Next door to his
winery, ancient Israel kept the Ark of the
Covenant for the 400 years preceding King David's
conquest of Jerusalem in BCE 1000. Judah Maccabee
routed his first Greek column. Beth-El, where
Jacob dreamed of angels going to and from heaven
is on the next hill.
Ten minutes from
Shiloh is the Psagot Winery, already equipped with
a tasting cellar and historical sound and light
shows. It offers different grades; all are
workmanlike, but the artisanal single-vineyard
Cabernet is brilliant.
The beaten track of
tourism hasn't made it to Samaria yet, but that is
about to change. Add a few visitors' centers with
slick archaeological shows, and a couple of
restaurants attached to the wineries with
celebrity kosher chefs, and the contest region
will blossom into a cross between Napa Valley and
a biblical theme park.
There are lots of
ways to expel armies, but no-one has yet
discovered a way to keep away tourists. Samaria
attracted a trickle of 40,000 tourists last year,
and except for the Psagot facility, there were few
places for them to spend money. The mix of
biblical history and high-end winemaking, though,
might prove irresistible. Shiloh, ancient Israel's
capital during the four centuries before David's
conquest of Jerusalem, will have its first
multimedia visitor's center next year. In a year
or two, some of the wineries will have Napa-style
restaurants. One can almost hear the distant
thunder of tour buses roaring up Route 60.
The improbable growth of what began as
religious settlements - in the face of the
universal opprobrium of enlightened opinion - is
one of the stranger stories in modern politics.
Except for the unobtrusive but tight security, the
West Bank towns that house 360,000 Jewish
residents have the staid air of long-established
suburbs. Home prices in the settlements are rising
and converging on comparable properties west of
the Green Line, and some towns have a long waiting
list of prospective residents.
casual observer, only their elevation
distinguishes the so-called settlements from
ordinary suburbs. The Palestinian Arabs who
comprise just 5% of the population in the Oslo
Accord's Area C, where virtually all Jews east of
the Green Line reside, build in the valleys.
Overlooking Shiloh and the ongoing grape harvest
is the township of Eli, a group of interconnecting
villages. "We build on the hilltops, the Arabs
live in the valleys. That's because we have to
worry about defending ourselves, and know they
don't" explains Eli's security officer, a
reservist in the Golani Brigade.
a sizeable contingent of secular Jews in Samaria
who came for the mountain air and manageable
costs, but most adhere to the Dati Leumi, or
national-religious movement. Two out of five
Israeli army officers come from this movement, and
each town has a yeshiva that prepares
prospective officers and provides continuing
Jewish education. Thirty of these academies
recruit and prepare religious youth for officer
contingent has a love affair with the land and a
deep sense of its sanctity. They put the same
passion into cultivation, with striking results.
The best Samaria wines have more in common with
great European wines than with the consistent,
pleasant products of California: they have a
unique terroir, or earthiness, the
idiosyncratic complexity that comes from a special
combination of soil and climate. The vintners want
the biblical earth to bear witness to its special
blessing. That's what keeps Shiloh's Lourie up all
night in the vineyards during harvest.
From the back yard of her hilltop home in Eli, Tamar Asraf points to green vineyards below the hill of Shiloh. “That’s where the girls danced in the vineyards at harvest time,” she says, citing Judges 21. The Bible reports winemaking two and a half millennia ago. When the first Jewish settlers came to the area late in the 19th century, no grape had grown there for nearly two thousand years. Archaeologists in the meantime have discovered hundreds of wine presses in Samaria.
“It’s a pleasure to be at the center of all the evil in the world,” I greet the diminutive woman, who is the public affairs officer for the Eli township. In the idiom of modern diplomacy, the 360,000 Jews in Samaria are responsible for all the violence in the region. The search terms “settlements” and “obstacle to peace” yield nearly a million Google hits. Boycotts of West Bank products are promulgated at diplomatic meetings and campus gatherings around the world. But standing in Ms. Asraf’s back yard on a 1,000-meter hilltop, the narrative seems insane.
She points west. “There’s Tel Aviv,” an easy half-hour commute from the Samaria settlements. She pivots and indicates the east. “There’s Amman.” The distances are negligible. It’s as if Buda occupied Pest, or Minneapolis occupied St. Paul. The idea that the world’s problems hinge on a small number of people clustered in a tiny space is either prima facie proof of epidemic dementia, or a way of changing the subject.
Ms Asraf wants to talk about the economic prospects for the region. Israel has supported the settlements as a bulwark against hostile encroachment on its core territory. Artillery on a few West Bank hills could hit anything in Tel Aviv as well as the country’s main airport.
Few Israelis still
think that conceding territory to the Palestinians
will bring peace. Even those who favor land for
peace are inclined to argue that less peace merits
less land. When then-Prime Minister Sharon
withdrew Israeli forces from Gaza unilaterally in
2005, a former aide explained, he expected the
enclave to turn into a terrorist haven shooting
rockets into Israel - and foresaw that the Gaza
disaster would persuade the Israeli public to hold
onto the West Bank at all costs. I don't oppose a
two-state solution as a matter of principle, but
the point is long since moot.
A bone of
contention in Israeli politics, though, has been
the cost of supporting the settlers. According to
a recent study by the left-center newspaper
Ha'aretz,  civilian costs (excluding the
military presence) amount to about US$2,500 per
settler. Whether that estimate is accurate, it's a
"We have to focus on economics," Ms
Asraf states, and the greatest potential is in
tourism. This is the biblical heartland, just half
an hour by bus from Jerusalem. It is arresting
hill country, with historic associations at every
turn in the road. The Christian pilgrims who pack
Jerusalem to walk the Via Dolorosa well might take
an afternoon on the Road of the Patriarchs, with a
wine-tasting from biblical vineyards. For someone
who takes Hebrew Scripture in earnest, like this
writer, the mixture of taste, sight and memory is
Once there are service
industry jobs, the local Arabs will start to
benefit.That benefit is already visible at Ariel
University, located in Samaria's largest city. The
campus would look like a modest branch of an
American state university, except for the large
number of girls in Muslim headscarves. West Bank
Arabs, I calculated in 2009, had double the per
capita income of Egyptians. After the civil war in
Syria and the collapse of Egypt's economy, the
West Bank will stand out as an oasis of Arab
prosperity. Nothing will entirely assuage the
humiliation Arabs feel at the Israeli presence,
but economic benefits help make it bearable. A
biblical version of Napa Valley could feed the
Israeli treasury rather than drain it.
What about all the people who are looking
to the settlements for a solution to the world's
problems?, I asked Ms Asraf. "Sometimes you have
to live without a solution," she replies. In a
way, the settlers are a last redoubt of realism.
The local situation is hopeless, but not serious,
and the region's future belongs to those who dig
in and get on with life.